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Clayton County Schools helping students understand feeling through 'mindful awareness'

Four elementary schools started the program in January. Officials hope to bring it to 63 others by next Fall.

CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — Mental health disorders in children have been on the rise since the pandemic, with one study estimating that anxiety and depression levels have doubled over the past few years.

But now, one metro Atlanta school district is trying to change that by focusing on their students' mental health, with a concept called mindful awareness. 

Mindful awareness is a type of meditation that helps a person focus on how they're "feeling in the moment," according to the Mayo Clinic.

11Alive visited Kilpatrick Elementary School and spoke to one second grader who explained how she uses a tactic to calm herself down.

“I do the shark fin whenever I’m so mad or sad, it calms me down,” Karhan Jacques said.

“You put your thumb here (on your forehead) and then you go on down,” she demonstrated.

Kilpatrick Elementary School in Jonesboro is one of the pilot program schools now practicing mindful awareness through the Inner Explorer program and app, taking 20 minutes of every day, for each class, to learn stress reduction tools like the shark fin, deep breaths and journaling.

“I write about my thoughts and my angry-ness, sadness and calmness and I feel really good about it,” Jacques said.

Every student at Kilpatrick is taking part in the program and principal Candice Jester said it’s helping the teachers too.

“Because you need time to yourself to get your mind right so you’re not ready to run out, because teaching is hard education is hard -- it’s different and it can lead to burnout,” Jester said.

Dr. Laura Bakosh, co-founder of Inner Explorer, said Metro Atlanta was the perfect fit for this program, and Clayton County is the first school district to get on board.

“The students who are in this region have high levels of anxiety, depression and even fear,” Bakosh said.

A research study by Inner Explorer showed that mindful awareness can bring:

  • A 43% reduction in stress
  • 15% improvements in academic achievement
  • 60% fewer mental health and behavioral issues

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Anthony W. Smith said they’ve already noticed positive results since January.

“It helps them make good decisions, you got a good clear mind, free of stress obviously, I like those chances and circumstances in terms of a kid making better decisions,” Smith said.

The program, supported by Green Light Fund Atlanta, is free for the schools. Even the Atlanta Hawks are helping out, by making a video to kick off the new program.

Hopefully, the program will continue to help students cut down on stress, build up resilience and overall, become more mindful.

“It’s wonderful, it can calm you down, every day,” Jacques said.

This pilot program is in four elementary schools right now, but they hope to bring mindful awareness through the Inner Explorer program to all 67 Clayton County schools by next year.

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